Leaverites - Features in Sedimentary Rocks

Steven Dutch, Professor Emeritus, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay

Ripple Marks

Ripple marks,Green Bay Ripple marks are undulating surfaces on bedding planes caused by waves or currents while the rocks were being deposited.

Here are ripple marks on the muddy bottom of Green Bay, formed during a low stand of the Bay.

Ripple marks, Wisconsin Virtually identical ripple marks from the Baraboo Quartzite, 1600 million years old.

Below are more ripple marks from the same area.

ripple marks, Ontario When waves come from two directions at once, interference ripple marks like these in Ontario form.
Ripple marks, Green Bay Modern interference ripple marks on the bottom of Green Bay.
wave interference One way interference ripple marks can form.

Mud Cracks

polygonal patterns resulting from the sediment drying and shrinking before it was buried. These often have rims of whatever filled the cracks.

mud cracks Mud cracks on the bottom of a modern puddle.
Mud cracks in the dolomite at Maribel Caves, Wisconsin, evidence that the limy mud that formed these rocks occasionally dried out. The rocks probably formed in a tidal flat environment. Mud cracks in dolomite
Mud cracks, Virginia Mud cracks in Cambrian rocks in southwestern Virginia. Even the curls of the flaking mud are preserved. We are looking at the top of the beds here.


Usually seen on surfaces that break through the rock layers. Within the layer are smaller slanting layers caused by shifting patterns of erosion and deposition. Wind and water action can both produce cross-bedding.

cross beds, Ontario These large cross beds probably formed in an offshore sandbar
Small cross-beds like these, from Scotland, are often called "festoon" crossbeds. They formed from rapid cutting and infilling of small channels, probably in an alluvial fan. cross beds, Scotland
cross beds, Illinois These large and fairly uniform crossbeds from southern Illinois probably were made by a small stream delta during a marine invasion. Shale interbeds represent quiet intervals when the delta was somewhere else, then, later on the delta returned to this location when the water was deeper. Three separate episodes can be seen. In each case the delta built from right to left. 
Cross-beds are rarely seen from above, but when they are they look like this. Small channels were cut and then filled in from right to left. cross beds, Virginia
Huge cross beds like these are usually dune sands. You can't see from the picture alone that they even are cross beds. Only by noting that all the rock layers around are horizontal can you tell.
This rock contains several sets of cross beds nicely outlined by the green mineral glauconite.

Graded Bedding

graded bedding, Antarctica Layers where coarse material grades into finer material toward the top, usually caused by fast-moving water that slows down. Floods and submarine landslides are common causes.

Salt Crystal Casts

Relatively rare. These are square or angular impressions left by salt or gypsum crystals as sediment dried out. The small square lumps on the rock at right are salt crystal casts.

A closer view.

Reduction Spots

Reduction spots are circular (actually spherical) pale spots in reddish sedimentary rocks. Something at the center causes the iron in the surrounding rock to be less oxidized (or reduced). The culprit can be a fossil or small mineral fragment.


Omar is short for Omarolluk. The Omarolluk Formation occurs in the Belcher Islands of Hudson's Bay. Round calcareous concretions occur in a fine-grained metamorphosed siltstone. When they weather out, they leave hemispherical holes. These rocks are only known to occur in a small area in Hudson's Bay but the glaciers spread them across central Canada and into the northern U.S.
Here's a very large concretion that hasn't completely weathered out yet.

Wave Action

magnetite concentration by wave action This looks like horrible pollution but is actually perfectly natural. On the Lake Michigan shoreline, wave action washes away light minerals, leaving only black magnetite sand at the high-water mark.
magnetite concentration by wave action When wave conditions are right, layers of almost pure magnetite can form, like those seen in this shallow trench.

Load Casts

load casts, Antarctics When sediment is deposited faster than it can compact, it can sag downward into still-mushy layers below, and mud can squirt upward. Sags like these are called load casts. These are from the Antarctic Peninsula. Note that the coarse bed is graded and the largest grains fill the bottoms of the sags.

Flame Structure

flame structure, Ontario Sometimes mushy sediment will find only a few weak spots, and produce isolated structures like this, called a flame structure. This one is near Sudbury, Ontario.

The extremely smooth, flat surface is due to glacial action.

Sandstone Dike

sandstone dike, Ontario This looks like a dike, but close inspection shows that the rock is sandstone. A sandstone dike? Yes, that's exactly what it's called. This one is north of Lake Huron in Ontario. Sandstone dikes form when sediment is partially consolidated but under high pressure. If a water-laden layer can find a weak spot in the overlying layers, it squirts upward. Earthquakes are a common trigger. Note how large pieces concentrated in the center where flow was fastest.

Soft-Sediment Deformation

soft-sediment deformation The very uniform layers here are varves, alternating thick and thin layers formed in a glacial lake. The contorted zone running across the center is probably due to glacial ice shoving the upper layers of sediment over the lower layers. Deformation that occurs while sediments are partly or wholly unconsolidated is called Soft-Sediment Deformation
soft-sediment deformation
soft-sediment deformation Sometimes a stack of layers will slip over a weak layer beneath, rumpling like a carpet.

Flute Casts

flute casts Submarine landslides are common on the edge of the continental shelf. The landslide flows scour flutes in the underlying sediment, then come to rest as graded beds of sand and silt that fill in the sculpted bottom. We are looking at the underside of a submarine landslide deposit in New Brunswick.
flute casts Looking at the underside of another submarine landslide deposit in New Brunswick. The flutes scoured by submarine landslides tend to be steep on the upstream end and gently-tapered on the downstream end, making it easy to tell which way they moved. These structures are hard to observe directly forming in nature but quite easy to duplicate in the laboratory.

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Created 15 October 2009, Last Update